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I find I have to battle the 'skipping the design' phase often. But even the best skip it themselves. In a classic example I always use from their own book, IDEO did not reduce the problem to the lowest common denominator (taking a design pattern from mathematics). They were working on a better 'water bottle' design. They should have been working on a better way to "provide fluids to someone with one or more hands unavailable". They would have gotten to the bladder design that showed up years later.

Amen.

I love the quote.

In essence, I hear the «solution proposal» instead of «problem description» not only from clients on day 1, but through out, and account execs, and planners, and project managers.

It's sad that the «problem description» isn't valued enough. I want to learn more about the canyon and why we need to go across.

Rama Gheerawo of Royal College of Art did a wonderful take on this at a presentation recently.

Rama differs between the traditional “Marketing Research” - which is designed to give us correct answers, and what he define as "Emotional research" -designed to give us inspiration.

It is after all the designers and creative’s that are trained and skilled at articulating solutions and identifying opportunities - not the consumers or users. (yes I know, it’s a bit more nuanced than that :o)

What we need are better tools and processes to give us this inspiration, this insight. Emotional research is a tool in this toolbox.

Rama defines Emotional Research as amongst a lot of things Ethnography and Observation (I would suggest that Observation is what Kotchka is referencing)

If interested, Ramas’ presentation:
http://www.selfcast.com/norskdesign/recording/600

Paul, this issue has been bothering me for a long time. Any good designer would argue that defining the problem is just as important, if not more important, than generating a solution.

Bill Buxton talks about the difference between getting the design right and getting the right design. The former is when a designer is forced to use intuition and experience to iterate on a single solution so that it is well-received. It will look pretty and it will work, but it won't be useful to the intended audience. The latter happens when designers are given the opportunity to analyze the situation and identify pain points instead of simply being told what to do. Research, synthesis and prototyping together ensure that the solution is the right one.

But how do we characterize these skill sets that often go unused? How do we name the activity so that we can better sell it to our clients? Is it Strategy? Discovery? Plain old Research, which sounds dry and redundant to many companies? There's thinking and then there's doing. What can we call Thinking so that it doesn't sound like a waste of time to the people paying the bills?

Great post and responses! I know a lot of companies that just "do what the competition does" without really knowing why it works for the competition and not for them.
It's very hard to get paid for "thinking" or "brainstorming"; it's not easy for companies to understand that they actually "live in your head" and you dream about solutions for them or have genius ideas "come to you" in the shower - There's a great song called, "The Billing Song" that says, "Notions cost money, but you think they should be free" and "My mind and my time are my merchandise".
You can hear the song here http://tinyurl.com/4scade
Helps me get through a rough day!
V-

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